Connect in the back of the net

Antonio Conte is in full swing to strengthen his defense to get ready for the next season where the Blues will be facing Champions League fixtures.

One of the hottest transfer talks undergoing by Chelsea’s management is the signing of Juventus’ center-back Leonardo Bonucci, who has already played under Conte at both the domestic and international fronts.

After a little fallout with Roman Abramovich on funding, Chelsea boss now seems hopeful with the board financially backing the transfer. There is also an option to divest Kurt Zouma or Nathan Ake to open space for the Italian defender.

Whatever be the way, the ball is still in Juventus’ court as they would only sell their center-back in exchange for a gargantuan amount, which Chelsea seems willing to offer. The Italian defender is currently worth £50 million, the same as when David Luiz left Chelsea for PSG in 2014.

Now the question is, who Bonucci would replace in the Chelsea’s starting eleven?

With the central position of Conte’s Back 3 already assigned to another mind blowing sweeper, David Luiz, it’s a debatable question as if Conte will replace Luiz with Bonucci – the latter is best fit at the most central role of the Back 3 due to his vision and playmaking rather than the wider ones, but so does Luiz.  

However, to come up with a more precise conclusion of whether placing Bonucci as a center back would technically worth much so to cover the cost of not making Luiz part of Chelsea’s Plan A next season, the stats of both 30 year olds have been compared below of their last domestic league campaigns.

 

One-on-one battles

Looking at the one-on-one stats including aerials, tackles, and take-ons, the overall average of these stats combined is superior for Luiz (0.049 per minute, winning 63%) over Bonucci (0.042 per minute, winning 53.3%).

Besides, Bonucci has been taken on (0.0072 taken ons per minute) more than Luiz (0.0045).

However, out of these, Bonucci is better than Luiz in aerial duels with winning ratio of 58% compared to Luiz’s 55%.

Given that the aerial duels are the second most important for Chelsea in one-on-one battles (constituting 35 percent of the team’s one-on-one battles) after tackles (39 percent) during the last Premier League season, this stats is of high importance. Bonucci’s aerial ability poses a strong threat from set pieces.

Also, the reason Bonucci scoring lesser than Luiz in tackles is probably because Bonucci doesn’t dive into tackles and can win the ball with his on-rushing, forward movement without having to slide tackle.

Yet, this enables the team an efficient transition from defense to attack and a rapid counterattack. Thus, even though he may not appear better in these stats, his artistic talent in one-on-one situations is worth more than the stats itself.

 

Other Defensive Stats

Comparing some other defensive stats of the two, such as number of clearances per minute played, Luiz appears better – 0.058 clearances per minutes with 67.1% successful – than Bonucci – 0.040 clearances per minutes with 58% successful.

However, this must be due to the sweeper role assigned to Luiz being at the central position in the Back 3, whereas Bonucci has been playing in Back 4 where clearances are not concentrated to one central defender.

Bonucci has also an advantage in interceptions (0.025 per minute with 34.5% successful) over Luiz (0.021 per minute with 27.1% successful). This is compatible with his high level of tactical awareness i.e. ability to predict opposition’s moves and potential passes.

Bonucci also has more successful outfielder blocks (7.5%) than Luiz (5.9%). This must be due to his added advantage of more aerial wins over Luiz.

 

Passing Stats

Bonucci has higher average number of attempted and successful passes per minute (0.785 per minute with 87.2% successful) than Luiz (0.531 passes per minute with 83.6% successful).

Even after adjusting their average with their team’s average number of passes per minute – to account for their respective team’s possession – Bonucci’s stats for successful passes is still better constituting 10.7 percent of Juventus average attempted passes per minute compared to Luiz’s constituting 7.2 percent of Chelsea’s average attempted passes.

Even though the difference is just 3.5 percent, this translates into 19.35 more successful passes per game by Bonucci compared to Luiz. Thus, Bonucci would make about one more successful pass for every four and a half minute compared to Luiz (if he replaces Luiz in Chelsea’s Back 3).

Although his dribble-to-pass ratio (0.002) is four times less than Luiz (0.008), this is because Bonucci is more into passing and launching the attack from the back than in bringing the ball forward.

On the other hand, Luiz, being a modern sweeper, is more into dribbling and bringing the ball forward thus having a slightly more advanced role than Bonucci. This also allows the Brazilian defender to often join the midfield.

Bonucci has more number of key passes (0.0036 per minute) than Luiz (0.0033). Bonucci has also played more number of long passes (0.0095 long balls per minute with 64% successful) than Luiz (0.054 with 53% successful).

His visionary passing range and skill to distribute ball and attack from the back via accurate long balls is suggestive of his vision and creative playmaking which can break up the opposition’s attack.

Since the Italian initiated his career playing higher up the pitch as a central midfielder before excelling as a central defender, he has been developed as a ball-playing and playmaking defender.

 

Other Attacking Stats

While Bonucci appears better than Luiz in passing and playmaking, Luiz has better stats in shooting.

His shots per minute equals 0.01 for the last Premier league season with 48% on target as compared to Bonucci’s 0.008 shots per minute with only 28% on target for the last Serie A season. Luiz is stronger in long shots with 0.007 out-of-box shots per minute on average compared to Bonucci’s 0.002 long shots per minute.

When it comes to goals, however, Bonucci has better scoring stats as he scored 3 goals in 29 Serie A appearances but Luiz scored only 1 goal in 33 Premier League appearances.

Bonucci has also better ball control than Luiz – Bonucci experienced only 0.0024 times poor control per minute compared to Luiz with 0.0056 times poor control per minute in their last domestic league season.

This implies the Italian is much better with the ball between his feet.

 

Positional discipline and zonal awareness

When it comes to zonal awareness, it’s one of the strengths of Bonucci but one of the weaknesses of Luiz.

However, Luiz’s sweeper role in 3-4-3 gives him freedom to track and man-mark assigned targets while the two other central defender fall back to cover up for Luiz due to which he doesn’t need positional awareness which would be required otherwise when playing in Back 4.

Now it all depends on how Conte deploys the two center backs – one is better in positional awareness and vision and the other is better in one-on-one battles and bringing the ball to advanced areas.

However, Luiz can show his skills best as a sweeper in Back 3 and wouldn’t perform much better if he is assigned any position-bound role such as any wider position in Back 3 or anywhere in Back 4.

On the other hand, Bonucci can play in both 3-men and 4-men defense due to his positional intelligence – and will be the better fit at a central position to demonstrate the best of his playmaking.

 

Conclusion

Comparing the two center backs, Luiz appears better in one-on-one battles and long range shooting but Bonucci appears better in aerial duels, passing accuracy, long balls, distribution and reading the game, zonal awareness, and some other key attacking stats such as key passes and stable touch.

In terms of physicality, both players are of almost same age and height.

Both are two-footed players but Bonucci is clearly an attack minded defender with good feet so it would be misleading to consider only the defensive aspects of his skillset.

His vision and creative playmaking can not only help in breaking opposition vertically up the spine via long balls but also open up horizontal compactness of the opponents via cross-field switching passes across the flanks.

His vision allows him to score extraordinary goals. He has also been famous for his leadership.

Given the comparison, one can infer why Conte wants the Italian center back.

Given the intense fixtures and schedule next season, having an additional center back on bench is a good back-up plan but Conte is likely to bench Luiz and substitute him back whenever he feels the need of more marking, tackles, clearances, and to win the ball early against oppositions.

But Conte would have to enrich its wider positions with the more intense marking and tackling talent to cover the cost of benching Luiz.

Now that’s another debate that opting Luiz out of Plan A would be unfair given he has been always heart-to-heart with his team.

The other option is that Conte may deploy Bonucci in place of Luiz, while placing the later on either of the wide of Back 3, or vice versa, however, giving one the central position of the Back 3 would cause Conte to lose the best version of the other.

Let’s see!

 

Written by Farkhanda Jabeen

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